October 2017
ESP News



Kevin Knight

Ismaeil Fazel

Thomas Orr (2002), who was the English for Specific Purposes Interest Section (ESPIS) chair from 2000–2001, writes about the case studies in the ESP volume that he edited for the publisher, TESOL:

These case studies are written by practitioners who are able to portray real experience by providing detailed descriptions of teaching practice. These qualities invest the cases with teacher credibility, and make them convincing and professionally interesting. The cases also present multiple views and offer immediate solutions, thus providing perspective on the issues and examples of useful approaches. Informative by nature, they can provide an initial database for further sustained research. Accessible to wider audiences than many traditional research reports, however, case studies have democratic appeal. (p. ix)

From our perspective, Tom, who recently passed away, could have been describing the 35 ESP Project Leader Profiles published to date. (See the About This Community section or visit the ESPIS Library.) In fact, “leadership” in the context of “aviation English” is a thread that connects all of the articles in this edition of ESP News.

In the first article, Elizabeth Mathews, assistant professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU), presents the state of aviation English and argues for better and more research in language as a human factor in aviation safety. By doing so, she also clarifies the needs of English learners and calls for academic leadership.

In the second article, Jennifer Roberts, who is also a faculty member at ERAU, illuminates why a great majority of intensive English program students at ERAU continue their studies at the campus. As an aviation English specialist, Jennifer writes about the professional objectives of such students and explains how ERAU course design prepares students to achieve their goals.

In the third article, Kevin Knight, associate professor at Kanda University of International Studies and coeditor of ESP News, follows Mathews and Roberts as he focuses on research and program development related to aviation English, drawing upon his TESOL publications concerned with discourse, interview training, and the leadership accounts of an unemployed airport ground staff member and a heroic airline captain.

Prior to reading the three articles, we encourage you to read the letters from two ESPIS leaders: the chair and chair-elect. In the letter from the ESPIS chair, Ethel Perez Apple (who is currently rebuilding after hurricane Irma) reminds us of our strength as an interest section. She adds that “to sustain and grow, our interest section needs not just members, but continued participation and leadership from its members.” We need to create the vision of what we will become. Chair-Elect Marvin Hoffland provides an inspirational self-introduction and encourages our active participation in the ESPIS. By the way, the ESPIS academic session at the TESOL convention in Chicago in 2018 is dedicated to Thomas Orr.

In summary, from the three articles in this issue, we see a focus on providing English learners with the communication skills they need for success in the aviation industry. We hope that these articles stimulate your creativity so that you can better address the needs of your learners. We also hope that you will become actively involved in the ESPIS, where we strive to develop ourselves as professionals for the benefit of our learners and colleagues worldwide.

All the best,

Kevin Knight and Ismaeil Fazel


Orr, T. (Ed.).(2002). English for specific purposes. Alexandria, VA: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.

Kevin Knight (PhD in linguistics, MBA, MPIA) is associate professor in the Department of International Communication of Kanda University of International Studies in Chiba, Japan. His research interests include leadership conceptualization and development, ESP, and professional communication (see the Leadership Connection Project).

Ismaeil Fazel is a lecturer at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. His main research interests include academic writing, English for academic purposes, and language assessment. He has published in journals such as English for Academic Purposes and TESL Canada. One of his recent publications is a coauthored encyclopedia entry on ESP (Abrar-ul-Hassan & Fazel) in the TESOL Encyclopedia of English Language Teaching (in press).


You might say that as a Miami, Florida, USA resident, I’m a veteran of hurricane preparedness. Having experienced Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and now Irma a few weeks ago as well as preparing for countless hurricanes that never reached our shores, I know the drill. Luckily for me, Irma left less damage in its path than Andrew did 25 years ago.

But many people have suffered loss and destruction that will take time and resources to rebuild. During challenging times like these, it is always individuals who share their stories and work together as a community who make rebuilding possible. As a community, we’ve rebuilt before and we’ll meet the challenge once again.

TESOL is challenging us now as English language teaching professionals to take a fresh look at our interest sections and to go through a process of examining and defining not only who we are, but what we want our interest section to become. A series of self-assessments and steps are being guided by our English for Specific Purposes Interest Section (ESPIS) Community of Practice team, headed by former ESP Chairs Kevin Knight and Kay Westerfield. The process is designed to help transition to the future for what we want our interest section to become.

The ESPIS is one of the largest and most dynamic interest sections in TESOL, representing programs in English for occupational purposes and English for academic purposes, and practitioners as well as diverse disciplines and professions. For us to sustain and grow, our interest section needs not just members, but continued participation and leadership from its members. I encourage you to participate in the conversation about what the ESPIS will become. How can it best serve you, and what can you bring to the table?

While many volunteer opportunities exist to serve on committees and participate in workshops,

TESOL also offers a Leadership Development Certification Program that provides quality professional development and leadership training for current or future leaders. The 40-hour self-paced online program is open to TESOL members only. Perhaps this is the next professional step for you.

As TESOL President Ester de Jong points out, being part of the conversation can challenge long-held beliefs and accepted practice. And being part of the conversation can help us engage with each other as English language teaching professionals to address the needs of the future.

As a newly elected chair, I would like to thank everyone who has given me a word of encouragement along the way. I’d like to say a special thanks to Kevin Knight, Kay Westerfield, and Robert Connor, who have been particularly instrumental in their examples of leadership.

Esther Perez Apple, MA

Chair, ESPIS

Esther Perez Apple is founder and principal of Perez Apple & Company, which specializes in business communication. She provides communication skills training for multinational professionals that raises their communicative competence linguistically, socially, and strategically. Esther’s areas of expertise include workplace communication skills, workplace/business English, pronunciation, and social pragmatics. Esther is a speaker, trainer, coach, and consultant. To find out more, visit http://www.perezapple.com


To start, let me briefly introduce myself and my connection with the English for Specific Purposes Interest Section (ESPIS). I began my so-called “ESP career” back in 2002 when I became a senior lecturer of English in the medical information technology degree program at Carinthia University of Applied Sciences. I was an embedded English teacher responsible for establishing and teaching the entire English curriculum for a 4-year engineering and information technology program in a small university in southern Austria. I learned quickly to be flexible when dealing with ESP students and to swallow my pride and ask for help when necessary (which, at the beginning, was often). Over the last 15 years of my teaching career, I have been extremely fortunate to be able to reach out for assistance to my other English colleagues, internally at my university and externally to TESOL—and specifically the ESPIS.

I attended my first TESOL convention in Long Beach, California, USA in 2004 and became a member of the ESPIS right from the beginning. The academic sessions, demonstrations, workshops, and so on offered at the TESOL conventions over the years have provided me personally with tools and concepts that I have been able to immediately integrate into lectures. For example, I am still using a presentation evaluation sheet that I adapted for my own needs after attending a workshop in Long Beach. Additionally, there have been a number of sessions at TESOL over the years that have been extremely useful in my role as the Moodle administrator at Carinthia University of Applied Sciences. Moreover, TESOL has provided me contact with other ESP professionals to exchange ideas ranging from material and curriculum development to the benefits and pitfalls of “teaching content” versus “teaching language,” teaching methodology, and so on, not only at the conventions, but through newsletters like this, the ESP Project Leadership Profile series from Kevin Knight, and the IS digest forums. It can get lonely being the only language teacher in a department of engineers.

My recommendation to those of you who are new to TESOL and to “old-timers” alike is to get involved in TESOL and an interest section (IS). I have worn a number of different hats over the years in the ESPIS Steering Committee in the roles of web content manager (back when we had this role), English for academic purposes representative, ESP member-at-large, ESP abstract reviewer, and now as chair-elect. As I look back at my involvement with the ESPIS, I see that I have been truly fortunate to be able to develop myself both professionally and personally through the contact with the truly outstanding people I have met. Being an abstract reviewer—even though this can be very time intensive and frustrating because of technological glitches—has been an eye-opening experience, just through seeing the wide range of topics and research areas in the ESP field, whether they be English for academic purposes, English for occupational purposes, or more specific areas such as business English or medical English.

ESPIS Past Chair Robert Conner in the October 2016 issue of ESP News pointed out why it is so necessary for the ESPIS to have active interest and active participation in ensuring TESOL convention slots. This is more relevant than ever as TESOL transitions from the ISs to communities of practice to ensure that ESP is able to continue to be a vibrant and vital part of TESOL specifically and to the academic area of English language teaching as a whole. TESOL 2018 in Chicago, Illinois, USA is just around the corner, and, as the incoming chair, I am certainly looking forward to the academic sessions that the ESPIS are involved in as well as the individual ESP proposals that have been accepted. Moreover, I can only strongly encourage your attendance as part of your own individual professional development and participating in the ESPIS. Your participation at the ESPIS open meeting will help us on the steering committee in deciding how ESP will be defined in the future at TESOL. See you in Chicago in 2018 and in Atlanta, Georgia, USA in 2019.

Marvin D. Hoffland, MSc, is the incoming chair of the ESPIS and a senior lecturer of English and e-learning services administrator at the Carinthia University of Applied Sciences. Additionally, he has been an adjunct lecturer in the Department of English at the Alpen-Adria University, Klagenfurt, Austria. His interests include ESP in academic settings, English for engineering and information technology, and training faculty in designing Moodle courses.



In 1995, a Spanish-as-a-first-language air traffic controller suspected that the American pilots flying in his airspace had lost their situational awareness and were off course. He attempted to alert them or to confirm their track with repeated requests for the pilots to confirm their heading, using standardized English phraseology. However, his proficiency in plain English was insufficient to clarify with the English-speaking pilots that they were off course. According to the accident investigation report:

He said that his fluency in non-aviation English was limited and he could not ask them to elaborate on the request. Rather, he restated the clearance and requested their position. He believed that the pilot's response, that [the aircraft] was 37 miles from Cali, suggested that perhaps the pilot had forgotten to report passing the Tulua [marker]. The controller further stated that had the pilots been Spanish-speaking, he would have told them that their request made little sense, and that it was illogical and incongruent. He said that because of limitations in his command of English he was unable to convey these thoughts to the crew. (Ladkin, 1999)

Off track in high terrain, American Airlines 965 slammed into the top of a mountain, killing 150 passengers and crew.

This is only one of many accidents and serious incidents in aviation in which inadequate English language proficiency on the part of a pilot or air traffic controller was implicated in the chain of events that line up to result in an accident (see Appendix).

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), governs international aviation and is part of the United Nations’ system of specialized agencies. With 191 Member States, ICAO functions primarily by publishing standards and recommended practices to which ICAO Member States, signatories to the Convention on International Civil Aviation, are bound. In 2003, the ICAO identified a number of airline accidents in the years leading up to the adoption of ICAO’s global aviation language proficiency requirements, including the American Airlines accident cited above, totaling more than 1,000 fatalities, in which investigators determined that inadequate English language proficiency was a contributory factor in the chain of events leading to the accident.

In 1996, when Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University was asked by Delta Airlines, United Airlines, and FedEx to provide aviation English training to Chinese air traffic controllers as part of negotiated offsets for flyover rights across China, there were no commercially available, off-the-shelf, aviation-specific English language teaching materials available for us to use. The two slim texts that were available were simply inadequate to provide curriculum for the weeks of language teaching the controllers required.

In that same year, inadequate English language proficiency was found to be a contributing factor in a midair collision over India that killed 349 passengers and crew. In response to that accident, and a growing list of aviation accidents in which accident investigators determined that inadequate English language proficiency was a contributory or latent factor, India proposed ICAO Assembly Resolution A32-16: to adopt global English language testing requirements for pilots and air traffic controllers. ICAO adopted strengthened language standards in 2003; these became operational in 2008, and English language proficiency assessment is now required for pilots and air traffic controllers operating along international routes.

As important as the ICAO language proficiency requirements were in focusing industry attention on language issues in aviation, they nonetheless represent a very incomplete first step toward addressing the safety risk that inadequate English language proficiency represents throughout the aviation industry. The introduction of ICAO language proficiency requirements represents significant challenges to the aviation industry, of such magnitude that ICAO delayed the initial 2008 implementation deadline to 2011. In fact, more than a decade after the adoption of ICAO language requirements, the aviation industry has not been able to achieve genuine global compliance. Instead, there is much documented and anecdotal evidence of missteps and a frustrating lack of progress; even ICAO Member States that report compliance also report significant problems. There are a number of reasons for frustratingly slow progress.

While communication is universally acknowledged to be critical to aviation safety, industry understanding of communication and language as fundamental aspects of aviation safety has not kept pace with our understanding of other human performance factors. In fact, there are broad and deep safety gaps around a number of language in aviation issues, from the fundamental level of accident investigation and research on language as a human factor in aviation to the front-end operational problems caused by an unregulated and severely underperforming aviation English training and testing industry.

Overall, there has been relatively little meaningful research into aviation communications from the perspective of applied linguistics. Partly as a result, language issues in aviation are not investigated with the same degree of systematic and expert thoroughness with which other human and operational factors are considered. Accident investigators are trained to be thorough and methodical, first compiling and then analyzing evidence before conclusions are drawn. The aviation industry, in particular, is loath to speculate on the possible causes of accidents. Yet, the investigation into language issues in an aviation accident tend to not receive the same thorough and expert review that do other human performance issues. Too often, language issues in an accident investigation just become, to quote a former National Transportation Safety Board director, “one of those nagging issues,” in an accident investigation, but one whose impact upon the chain of events that led to the accident can often remain obscure (Wald, 1996). The investigation of the role of language in aviation accidents is hampered by a lack of tools and linguistic awareness, and research into language as a human factor in aviation communications is largely uninformed by insights from applied linguistics.

Another issue that continues to hamper full implementation of the intent of the ICAO language proficiency requirements is that the response to the large market for aviation English teaching and testing created by the ICAO standards has been almost exclusively for-profit and commercial; fewer solutions stem from the applied linguistics academic community. As a result, aviation English is a new and unregulated global enterprise that is sustained by an urgent need for large-scale aviation English training but remains sometimes still too little informed by best practices in teaching English to speakers of other languages, such as those found in the infrastructure that supports academia. Though there is nothing inherently problematic with commercial solutions (and indeed, the industry owes a debt of gratitude to commercial projects, the first to respond to the need for large-scale aviation English teaching and testing), to move forward toward genuine global implementation the industry now requires more academic input, input that is informed by an understanding of aviation operational needs.

A rapidly changing cultural landscape for aviation operations has resulted from what can only be called spectacular growth in aviation in Asia and other new markets. In these, as well as in other more traditional markets, cross-cultural and English-as-a-second-language communications are the norm and not the exception, both for pilot to controller communications and for flight deck communications. At a time when the aviation industry, by all indications, will continue to grow most robustly in regions in which English will be the common language between pilots and controllers, it is increasingly urgent that the industry have academic leadership on language issues.

The solution starts with better and more research in language as a human factor in aviation safety that draws on the expertise of both aviation operational and human factors experts and applied linguists. To help address the gaps in the infrastructure needed to support implementation of ICAO language requirements (see Figure 1), Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is drawing the expertise of linguistic, TEFL, and aviation operational specialists to support and encourage research on the areas of highest priority to the industry.

Figure 1. Infrastructure required to comply with ICAO language standards and recommended practices, with gaps.

Only by accurately perceiving the full extent of underlying causes of the communication failures can we adequately implement safety improvements. At the most fundamental level, there is an urgent need for the link between language proficiency and safety to be made explicit. If only the most glaring language issues are detected, then the industry will continue to misunderstand the critical need for a long-term, industry-wide commitment to language research, testing, and training.


Ladkin, P. (Preparer). (1999, February 8). AA965 Cali accident report: Near Buga, Colombia, Dec 20, 1995. Retreieved from http://sunnyday.mit.edu/accidents/calirep.html

Wald, M. “Language Gap Plays Role in Hundreds of Air Deaths.” New York Times. Dec. 9, 1996.

Appendix: Partial List of Accidents and Serious Incidents in Which Language Was a Factor








Use of two languages in same operating environment.




Misused or misunderstood phraseology.




Imprecise language regarding flight level and position.




Spanish-as-first-language pilot inadequately communicated urgency of fuel shortage.




Pilot didn’t understand “pull up.”




U.S. pilots lost situational awareness; controller suspected problem but did not have adequate plain English proficiency to communicate suspicions to pilots.




U.S. pilots lost situational awareness; controller suspected problem but did not have adequate plain English proficiency to communicate suspicions to pilots.

Elizabeth Mathews brings an academic background in applied linguistics and TESOL (MA-TESOL, University of Alabama, 1991) to language problems in aviation. An assistant professor in the Department of Applied Aviation Sciences at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Mathews focuses both on improving industry awareness and understanding of language as a factor in aviation safety and in raising the standards of teaching and testing English in aviation.


Intensive English programs (IEPs) exist with the mission of preparing students for academic success in U.S. universities, generally encompassing students interested in a broad range of majors, from science and technology to business and the arts, and often send their graduates to pursue degrees at universities across the United States or even internationally. However, at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU), Daytona Beach campus, a relatively small institution of about 6,000 students, a great majority of IEP students remain at ERAU to study for careers in positions such as pilots, aerospace engineers, aviation maintenance technicians, or, increasingly, unmanned aircraft systems operators.

Additionally, a significant portion of ERAU’s IEP students enter directly into flight training programs without obtaining an academic degree. In 2003, the International Civil Aviation Organization adopted language proficiency requirements that regulated the speaking and listening demands in English of pilot and air traffic controller communication (both phraseology and plain language). However, these regulations were not created for other language demands, such as the need for pilots to communicate with flight instructors during training, other pilots both in the cockpit and in shared airspace, or maintenance technicians about aircraft issues. Furthermore, such language proficiency requirements do not exist for other jobs within aviation, for example, maintenance technicians who are expected to read manufacturing manuals written in English. Traditional aviation English training does not typically focus on these other registers, nor does it give attention to language skills such as reading, despite its importance not only for maintenance technicians but also for pilots when reading checklists or handbooks or when dealing with new technologies such as controller-pilot data link communications (a way for pilots and controllers to send text-based communications).

Course Goals and Objectives

Within ERAU’s IEP, therefore, a unique opportunity exists for a course geared specifically toward these students who are preparing to enter a specific domain (i.e., aerospace). For all of the aforementioned reasons, an integrated skills course using authentic aviation content was created to better prepare students bound for the aviation industry. The course, titled Aviation Topics, was designed to supplement normal IEP instruction with two additional goals in mind. The first was to increase students’ feelings of preparedness for studies at ERAU or for entrance into flight training, and the second was to improve students’ content knowledge of aviation. To accomplish these goals, a wide variety of content-based objectives were chosen related to various fields within aeronautics, such as components and functions of an aircraft, the four forces of flight, aerospace engineering challenges and innovations, and the looming personnel shortage in the aviation industry. To increase students’ perception of their preparedness, the program provided opportunities for students to go out into ERAU’s campus and the local airfield and invitations for ERAU professors to come into the IEP classroom.

Goal One: Develop Content Knowledge

As the course stands within an existing IEP, it was important to integrate all skills, including reading, writing, listening, and speaking, into the course. Activities were designed within each topical unit aimed to develop skills related to all modalities but through the acquisition of important aviation-related content knowledge from authentic sources. Following, an outline of an example topical unit is described.

Special VFR Productions, part of the Flight Department at ERAU, has created a free online Introduction to Aviation Course entitled Aviation 101, designed with the message to students, “proceed at your own pace to learn fundamentals that will give you a head start to your aviation career.” Aviation 101 comprises nine video lessons, coupled with a transcript of the video text and comprehension quizzes. The first module is on aircraft systems, and begins with a brief video (4 minutes, 22 seconds) about the parts of an airplane. From this authentic source of content, 5 days’ worth of lessons were created for the Aviation Topics class, providing practice with learning objectives in reading, writing, listening, and speaking, and the acquisition of foundational aviation content knowledge.

Day 1

To activate students’ potential prior knowledge, a volunteer sketches an airplane and the class verbally identifies components and functions together. A class discussion on the importance of aviation professionals understanding these components helps focus and motivate students to learn more about this subject. The instructor provides a handout that contains a main idea chart and a skeletal outline of the video content. After a single play of the Aviation 101 video, students identify the five basic parts and their functions (main ideas). The instructor plays the video again, and students complete the outline, focusing on smaller details and key vocabulary. The instructor projects onto the board a large picture of a Cessna 172, the aircraft used in flight training at ERAU. The instructor then gives students strips of paper with components and functions, and tasks them to circulate around the room to find their component-function match, then to tape the pairs in the appropriate location on the projected aircraft. Students play other comprehension games, such as asking classmates for the function of an assigned component or quizzing each other on key vocabulary associated with a specific component.

Day 2

The transcript of the video is divided into segments that can later be jigsawed to create a group composed of members who were each responsible for a different segment. Initially, students meet with others assigned their same segment to paraphrase their portion of the transcript (paraphrasing is a major learning objective in higher level academic writing classes in ERAU’s IEP). Students are allowed to work together, but the instructor encourages them to write their own versions of the paraphrased transcript.

Days 3–4

After completing the paraphrase the previous day in class or for homework, students meet again and the instructor asks them to identify the main ideas and key points/vocabulary for their particular section. The instructor jigsaws the students to meet with classmates who have paraphrased the other parts of the transcript. Because Aviation 101 is freely available to the general public, students can easily access the original video on their personal laptops. The culminating task is to dub over the original video. Students quickly learn that simply memorizing their written paraphrase does not match with the progression of the video, so they are forced to innovatively revise their work to include all of the main points previously decided and to pace their delivery with the original video. Students negotiate timing together and practice repeatedly, listening to their teammates’ portions and offering suggestions for improvement.

Day 5

Students perform their video dubs for the class, with each listener using a checklist to verify that all important main ideas from the original are contained in the “paraphrased” video dub.

Goal Two: Increase Preparedness

IEP students sometimes report feelings of isolation and separation from the greater university community. Indeed, our programs do serve as the gatekeeper for matriculation in many instances. At ERAU, we have students enter who have dreamed of airplanes since they were young children and are eager to get into a cockpit. For this reason, Aviation Topics included many opportunities for students to experience the university and flight before actually matriculating. For example, students were given extra credit for and encouraged, though not required, to participate in observation flights with student pilots and flight instructors. Furthermore, three ERAU professors were invited to give lectures in their everyday fashion on the history of ERAU, aerospace engineering concentrations and innovations, and language as it relates to aviation safety. Tours of the Daytona Beach airfield and the Applied Aviation Sciences lab (containing air traffic control simulators and meteorology facilities) were also arranged for students.

To really expose students to the dynamics of a university classroom, professors were initially contacted by the course instructor to request permission for IEP students to observe their classes. Following, an explanation of the sequential tasks asked of students regarding this opportunity is provided. Students received a separate grade for each of the following tasks.

Task 1: Researching Classes

The instructor provides students with a list of potential classes to observe, as determined by professor agreement and logistical availability, which includes only the professor and the course’s name. By a certain date, students should research the classes on Campus Solutions, ERAU’s system for class registration, and on ERAU websites to determine the professor’s official title, college, and department, and the time and location of the class. Students turn in a report containing this information and an explanation of why they want to observe this particular class for their top three class choices. The instructor then assigns classes based on order of requests received, with the earliest submissions likely receiving their first choice.

Task 2: Emailing Professors

In class, the instructor provides students with a template for writing an email to a professor. As instructors of college students know, emails are not always composed in the politest or most professional manner, despite the students’ first language. Instruction for writing an email includes making sure to include an appropriate subject line, salutation, introduction, explanation of relationship and request, and sign off. Students practice writing emails in class and are required to copy (Cc) the Aviation Topics instructor when sending the final email to their assigned professor.

Task 3. Attending Classes

On the assigned dates, students are excused from normal classes and permitted to observe. They are required to take notes and provide a summary of those notes and their experiences 1 week after observation. The instructor encourages students to introduce themselves to the professors and thank them for the opportunity to observe. After observing the ERAU class, students showed mixed reactions of “I’m ready” and “I need more English.”


The activities described in this article are just a few components of the Aviation Topics class, which was designed for the specific purpose of preparing future aviation students for entrance into an aeronautical university or flight training. Assuredly, more aviation-focused courses are beneficial for students in pursuit of these types of careers, focusing on the development of content knowledge and a robust set of language skills which will be utilized in academic studies and in operational training. Aviation English should utilize content-based language teaching as a means of capitalizing on the intrinsic motivation of future aviation professionals, by teaching them English through the content that supplied the need for them to learn English in the first place.

Jennifer is a faculty member in the College of Aeronautics at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Worldwide, serving as the Aviation English Specialist to develop and implement aviation English programs. Her research interests include the pedagogical applications of corpus linguistics, language policy and planning, and curriculum development in English for specific purposes settings.


In view of the focus on aviation English in this edition of ESP News, I decided to adapt and replicate content from my TESOL publications that apply to research and program development related to aviation English. By doing so, I aim to complement what has been written by Mathews and Roberts in their articles in this issue. Specifically, I argue that professional communication research is valuable for English for specific purposes (ESP) practitioners and share two stories of aviation English from my own experience.

1. The Relevance of Professional Communication Research

In Knight (2014b), I wrote about the importance of learning about professional communication and shared a publication on business discourse that I had found to be valuable in my own research (Bargiela-Chiappini, Nickerson, & Planken, 2013). The three authors of that volume define “business discourse” as follows:

Business discourse is all about how people communicate in talk or writing in commercial organizations in order to get their work done. In this book, we will view business discourse as social action in business contexts. We will discuss the work of researchers (and practitioners) primarily interested in the investigation of spoken and written communication in general and language in particular in business settings, most often in corporate settings. We will be looking at (a) what business discourse research has told us about how people in business organizations achieve their organizational and personal goals using language, (b) how the findings of that research have been applied in teaching and training materials, and (c) how to go about doing business discourse research. (p. 3)

If our goal as ESP practitioners is to better understand communication for the purpose of creating training programs, we should be looking at resources such as the volume by Bargiela-Chiappini et al. (2013).

2. An Account of the Leadership of an Airline Captain

In connection with exploring discourse, we need to be interacting with the professionals who use the discourse that our students need to learn. In such interactions, we need to focus on professional communication. In Knight (2015), I wrote:

In order to enhance my ability to train professionals in specific fields, I am always looking for examples of outstanding professional communication. In this connection, have you ever read an article that focuses on the actions of professionals (such as company presidents, doctors, or lawyers) but not on their specific communication? One such article is titled What Air Crash Investigations Didn’t Tell You About QF32 (Airbus A380) by Hughes (2014). The article describes the actions of various professionals, but it does not answer one question to my satisfaction:

How did the various professionals communicate to achieve the results described in the article?

Although I did not find many examples of specific communication that were used to get the job done, I did find much content that could be used to teach my students how to tell a good success story in a job interview.

To prepare my students for behavioral questions in job interviews, I have used the following frameworks for talking about accomplishments (Knight, 2014a):

  • “S.T.A.R. (Situation/Task or Problem/Action/Result)
  • C.A.R. (Challenge/Action/Result)
  • P.A.R. (Problem/Action/Result)”

Such interview preparation takes the form of ESP training when my students have immediate needs for such communication skills. In view of the C.A.R. framework, the following extracts from Hughes’ article that I shared in Knight (2015) can be labeled with Challenge, Action, and Result:


  • “On November 4th, 2010, Captain de Crespigny was in command of QF32 flying from Singapore to Sydney….At 7,400 feet during climb-out there was a catastrophic failure of an inboard Rolls-Royce engine resulting in a very rare uncontained explosion. Shrapnel flew out at supersonic speed crippling control systems running along the Q380’s left wing leading edge, peppering the fuselage, invading the underbelly, puncturing two wing fuel tanks in at least ten locations and wreaking havoc with 21 of the 22 aircraft’s systems. In my opinion it was far more serious, and far closer to being a disaster, than anyone has been willing to acknowledge…”


  • “During the incident everyone knew their roles, and every issue and task was dealt with calmly and professionally. The First Officer, Matt Hicks, dealt with well over one hundred alarms and checklists while Captain de Crespigny concentrated on flying the aircraft, monitoring his First Officer, keeping his situation awareness, weighing his options and laying strategies to complete the flight.”

  • “Captain de Crespigny knew that height gave them more time and options so he told the flight deck team he was initiating a climb. ‘No!’ they all said in unison. It was the only time in the entire flight that there was any discord – teamwork in action. They were in stable level flight and they did not have all the information about what was wrong… leave everything as it is. No ego, just teamwork. Captain de Crespigny simply said, ‘okay.’”


  • “Rather than leave it to PR and customer service people, he took charge and when every passenger was safely in the terminal he went and spoke to them saying: ‘When you fly Qantas you’re flying with a premium airline and you have every right to expect more. An army of Qantas staff are right now finding you hotel rooms and working out how to get you to Sydney as soon as possible. But right now I want you to write down this number – it’s my personal mobile phone and I want you to call me if you think Qantas is not looking after you or if you think that Qantas does not care.’”

Some of the details in these extracts can be used to explain how Captain de Crespigny displayed leadership during the crisis. The Result extract in particular was something that I could analyze, discuss, and practice with my students in an organizational leadership seminar and with adult learners in a business English class.

3. The S.T.A.R. Framework in a Leadership Account of an Airline Ground Staff Member

In Knight (2017), I write of a student in one of my classes for unemployed adult learners at Kanda University of International Studies in Chiba, Japan. She had a leadership story that could be divided into the following four parts of the S.T.A.R. framework. (The following is my adaptation of that story for this article.)

  1. Situation: It was a cold day in winter.

  2. Task/Problem: The flights at an airport had been cancelled. Many passengers were waiting in front of the check-in counter.

  3. Action: The student took care of the passengers.

  4. Result: The passengers could eventually board flights.

Without certain details, the story above is not as impressive as it could be. The following details were elicited from the student and added to her story.

  • It was the coldest day in Japan. It was snowing. All of the airplanes were grounded because they were frozen. There were only two machines in the airport that could thaw out an airplane. They could only take care of one airplane at a time.

  • There were 150 passengers in front of the ticket counter. There was not transportation in or out of the airport so the passengers could not go to a hotel.

  • The student’s manager was not taking any action to take care of the 150 passengers.

  • At the airport, the student had worked in the food service section prior to working at the check-in counter. Accordingly, she took the initiative to obtain meals and blankets and pillows for all of the passengers.

  • The student also organized her other two colleagues (i.e., not the manager) at the check-in counter so the three ground staff were each in charge of caring for 50 of the 150 passengers.

  • After two days, the passengers could board flights. The situation ended without any problems because of the initiative of the student to take a leadership role.

Before the details of the story were elicited from the student in class, she believed that she did not have a leadership story to tell. After this story was shared with her classmates, her level of confidence increased dramatically because she (and others) recognized her impressive actions as a leader.

4. Comments of Captain de Crespigny

Captain de Crespigny, after reading Knight (2015), posted the following comments:

Thanks for asking the questions above because I think that they are VERY important. To fully appreciate the answers to your questions, you need to analyse fear, dread, startle effect, panic on the human condition so that you can generate empathy for your customer. Then you need to know why the WHY is more important than the HOW (SOPs [standard operating procedures]) or WHAT (safety). When you understand my WHY, the rest falls into place. Readers of my book (QF32) hopefully get the WHY. I’m [sic] writing more on leadership and crisis management in a book that comes out next year.”

I was very pleased to read these comments, and I think that Hughes had the right idea. He took the time and effort to interview Captain de Crespigny. As ESP practitioners, we should be encouraging our students to find models of communication for their professional activities.


Bargiela-Chiappini, F., Nickerson, C., & Planken, B. (2013). Business discourse (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hughes, T. (2014, December 26). What air crash investigations didn't tell you about QF32 (airbus A380). LinkedIn. Retrieved from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/what-air-crash-investigations-didnt-tell-you-qf32-airbus-hughes

Knight, K. (2014a). An ESP story about interview training [Blog post]. TESOL Blog. Retrieved from http://blog.tesol.org/an-esp-story-about-interview-training-2/

Knight, K. (2014b). Business discourse (2nd edition): Relevant for ESPers worldwide [Blog post]. TESOL Blog. Retrieved from http://blog.tesol.org/business-discourse-2nd-edition-relevant-for-espers-worldwide/

Knight, K. (2015). Analyzing communication in an article about professional performance [Blog post]. TESOL Blog. Retrieved from http://blog.tesol.org/analyzing-communication-in-an-article-about-professional-performance/

Knight, K. (2017, February). The role of leadership discourse research in interview training success. ESP News. Retrieved from http://newsmanager.commpartners.com/tesolespis/issues/2017-01-26/5.html

Kevin Knight (PhD in linguistics, MBA, MPIA) is associate professor in the Department of International Communication of Kanda University of International Studies in Chiba, Japan. His research interests include leadership conceptualization and development, ESP, and professional communication (see the Leadership Connection Project).



Statement of Purpose/Goals

The English for Specific Purposes Interest Section (ESPIS) is open to TESOL members who are interested in research and instruction designed to meet the unique English language needs of students and working adults in specific areas of study and employment by providing special training beyond that which is normally acquired by the average English speaker. The ESPIS fosters the sharing of ideas, expertise, and specialized curricula among ESP practitioners to promote quality research, education, and professional development in ESP.


ESP has long been an international movement with great strengths in research and teaching in many parts of the world, including developing countries. Establishing the ESPIS both indicates and validates TESOL's commitment to its international responsibilities.

Daphne Mackey, Kay Westerfield, and Adrian Pilbeam initiated the work to establish an ESPIS at the 1990 TESOL convention in New York, New York, USA. Meetings were well attended by participants interested in promoting the international sharing of ESP experience and expertise.

The proposed IS was given proposals to review for the 1992 TESOL convention in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada and was allotted slots for presentations and discussion groups. The petition to recognize the ESPIS was overwhelmingly approved by the Interest Section Council in Vancouver and was ratified by the Executive Board shortly thereafter. Kay Westerfield was appointed chair (1992–1993), with Laraine Kaminsky as chair-elect. Mary McSwain and Roberta Rettner became the first editors of TESOL ESP News, and Peter Master, the first editor of the TESOL Matters ESP column. In fall 1992, the IS was also awarded its first TESOL Special Projects Grant, submitted by Angela Castro with IS support, to establish the Directory of ESP Professional Services. Today, the ESPIS enjoys active participation from an ever-increasing membership and continually explores better ways to serve ESP professionals in more efficient and effective ways.

ESPIS Community Leaders

  • Chair: Esther Perez Apple
  • Chair-Elect: Marvin Hoffland
  • Past Chair: Robert T. Connor
  • Newsletter Editors: Kevin Knight, Ismaeil Fazel
  • Community Manager: Tarana Patel
  • Secretary/Archivist: Jennifer Speier
  • Member-at-Large: Robin Sulkosky
  • English for Occupational Purposes Representative: Shahid Abrar-ul-Hassan
  • English for Academic Purposes Representatives: Julia MacRae, Pamela Dzunu

ESPIS Chairs

ESPIS chairs serve for a 3-year term as chair-elect (1 year), chair (1 year), and immediate past chair (1 year). The dates and affiliations (at the time of service) here refer to the 1-year (or in a few instances, 2-year) term, between TESOL annual conventions, when the elected leader held or will hold the position of chair.

  • 2018–2019: Marvin Hoffland (Carinthia University of Applied Sciences, Austria)
  • 2017–2018: Esther Perez (Perez Apple & Company, USA)
  • 2016–2017: Robert Connor (Tulane University, USA)
  • 2015–2016: Jaclyn Gishbaugher (Ohio State University, USA)
  • 2014–2015: Kristin Ekkens (C3 Consulting, USA)
  • 2013–2014: Yinghuei Chen (Asia University, Taiwan)
  • 2012–2013: Najma Janjua (Kagawa Prefectural University of Health Sciences, Japan)
  • 2011–2012: Kevin Knight (Kanda University of International Studies, Japan)
  • 2010–2011: David Kertzner (ProActive English, USA)
  • 2009–2010: Shahid Abrar-ul-Hassan (Sultan Qaboos University, Oman)
  • 2008–2009: Oswald (Ozzy) Jochum (Carinthia University of Applied Sciences, Austria)
  • 2007–2008: Karen Schwelle (Washington University in St. Louis, USA)
  • 2006–2007: Ruth Yontz (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA)
  • 2005–2006: Charles Hall (University of Memphis, USA)
  • 2004–2005: Debra Lee (Nashville State Technical Community College, USA)
  • 2003–2004: Mark R. Freiermuth (University of Aizu, Japan)
  • 2002–2003: Ethel C. Swartley (Drexel University, USA)
  • 2001–2002: Jane Lockwood (Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong)
  • 2000–2001: Thomas Orr (University of Aizu, Japan)
  • 1999–2000: Judith Gordon (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA)
  • 1998–1999: Leslie Olsen (University of Michigan, USA)
  • 1997–1998: Joan Friedenberg (Southern Illinois University, USA)
  • 1995–1997: Margaret van Naerssen (University of Pennsylvania, USA)
  • 1993–1995: Laraine Kaminsky (Malkam Consultants Ltd., Canada)
  • 1992–1993: Kay Westerfield (University of Oregon, USA)

ESP Project Leader Profiles (On the TESOL Blog)

The ESP Project Leader Profiles were announced by former ESPIS Chair Kevin Knight in April 2015 in his role as an ESP blogger for TESOL International Association. The majority of the ESP project leaders featured in the profiles have been former ESPIS chairs and/or members of the ESPIS steering board. The projects in the profiles have been conducted on six continents: Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Europe, and Australia. The profiles are listed as a reference in TESOL’s ELT Leadership Management Certificate Program Online because of their value to all English language instructors, researchers, and leaders worldwide. A new profile is added approximately once a month. Please contact Kevin Knight if you are an ESP project leader or can recommend an ESP project leader for the ESP Project Leader Profiles.

  1. 5 May 2015: ESP Project Leader Profile: Kristin Ekkens
  2. 2 June 2015: ESP Project Leader Profile: Charles Hall
  3. 14 July 2015: ESP Project Leader Profile: Ronna Timpa
  4. 11 August 2015: ESP Project Leader Profile: Evan Frendo
  5. 8 September 2015: ESP Project Leader Profile: Jaclyn Gishbaugher
  6. 6 October 2015: ESP Project Leader Profile: Anne Lomperis
  7. 20 October 2015: ESP Project Leader Profile: Ethel Swartley
  8. 3 November 2015: ESP Project Leader Profile: David Kertzner
  9. 1 December 2015: ESP Project Leader Profile: Margaret van Naerssen
  10. 15 December 2015: ESP Project Leader Profile: Marvin Hoffland
  11. 12 January 2016: ESP Project Leader Profile: John Butcher
  12. 26 January 2016: ESP Project Leader Profile: Karen Schwelle
  13. 23 February 2016: ESP Project Leader Profile: Esther Perez Apple
  14. 8 March 2016: ESP Project Leader Profile: Kevin Knight
  15. 5 April 2016: ESP Project Leader Profile: Shahid Abrar-ul-Hassan
  16. 3 May 2016: ESP Project Leader Profile: Robert Connor
  17. 17 May 2016: ESP Project Leader Profile: Jigang Cai
  18. 14 June 2016: ESP Project Leader Profile: Ismaeil Fazel
  19. 28 June 2016: ESP Project Leader Profile: Yilin Sun
  20. 26 July 2016: ESP Project Leader Profile: Tarana Patel
  21. 23 August 2016: ESP Project Leader Profile: Prithvi Shrestha
  22. 6 September 2016: ESP Project Leader Profile: Robin Sulkosky
  23. 18 October 2016: ESP Project Leader Profile: Philip Chappell
  24. 2 November 2016: ESP Project Leader Profile: Jie Shi
  25. 13 December 2016: ESP Project Leader Profile: Laurence Anthony
  26. 24 January 2017: ESP Project Leader Profile: Barrie Roberts
  27. 7 February 2017: ESP Project Leader Profile: Jen Cope
  28. 21 February 2017: ESP Project Leader Profile: Susan Barone
  29. 21 March 2017: ESP Project Leader Profile: Debra Lee
  30. 18 April 2017: ESP Project Leader Profile: Kay Westerfield
  31. 2 May 2017: ESP Project Leader Profile: Stephen Horowitz
  32. 14 June 2017: ESP Project Leader Profile: Pam Dzunu
  33. 11 July 2017: ESP Project Leader Profile: Marta Baffy
  34. 8 August 2017: ESP Project Leader Profile: Vince Ricci
  35. 6 September 2017: ESP Project Leader Profile: Kirsten Schaetzel